How UVM’s Trisha Shrum is addressing climate change through parenting, storytelling and advocacy

Climate leaders, international ambassadors and teen activists from around the world gathered at the United Nations last week for an international panel highlighting the unique role of women and parents in developing innovative climate solutions.

Organized in partnership with DearTomorrow, an organization co-founded by UVM behavioral and environmental economist Trisha Shrum, the event aimed to relaunch an international “Our Kids’ Climate” coalition to mobilize parents, grandparents, and families around the world to take action in their own lives, in their communities, and to push for serious political action around climate change. 

“Fighting for our children’s future is a core, primal instinct that crosses all political and social boundaries,” said Shrum, a professor in the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics and mother of two. “The work of DearTomorrow and Our Kids’ Climate aims to leverage the universal power of parental love across the globe to push back climate change.”

Shrum began conducting transdisciplinary research on behavioral science and climate communication while receiving her Ph.D. at Harvard University. Her research, as well as the birth of her first child, motivated her to start DearTomorrow with Harvard colleague Jill Kubit. Their goal is to open up conversations across generations about why climate change is important in order to create the cultural shift necessary to transition to a world fueled by renewable energy.

DearTomorrow functions as a digital archive that gives people the opportunity to write messages to their children and grandchildren about climate change that can be accessed when their children are grown. The messages are shared through social media, traditional media, and community art.

Speaking at the UN panel last week, Kubit said, “We created a platform where anyone can write and share a story about how they think about climate change and what they want to do. We ask you to think about someone in your life in the year 2050 and think about the conversation you want to have with them.”

Using these storytelling techniques, DearTomorrow is making climate change personal, a core focus of the international forum and emphasized by former EPA head Gina McCarthy during her keynote address. 

“If you remember the first time your child was handed to you, my revelation was, ‘how can I be so in love with someone I just met’ right? You fell in love. But the other thing is that it terrified me. Because no longer was the world just mine or was my happiness just mine alone, it was my responsibility to keep them happy and to keep them healthy because if they weren’t, my world fell apart. That’s what climate change has to be about,” said McCarthy.

Back at UVM, Shrum draws on her experience as a social entrepreneur in her ongoing research and teaching in community entrepreneurship. Catch her at Burlington’s FlynnSpace on May 22 where she’ll be giving a Pecha Kucha style talk on her research and public outreach work with DearTomorrow. See event details here.


Daniel John Kirk

Sustainability is in our nature.

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